I come from a long line of animal lovers. My father raised Tenneesee Walkers; one niece volunteers at the zoo to work with aging elephants. Another niece is addicted to Animal Planet. Is it any wonder that I discovered at every turning point of my life, spiritual or psychological, that an animal guided me in making some big decision?
For example, my decades of studying wild dolphins have taught me about playfulness as a survival skill. My niece carried on the family tradition of cetacean love when she volunteered to work at a dolphin research center one summer. She got a tattoo of a dolphin, which inspires me to do the same, if I have the courage.
We’ve always known that animals are intelligent and able to adapt to changing environments – something humans might try. But a recent British Sunday Times article cites new research in which dolphins are declared “the world’s most intelligent creatures, after humans.” The scientists go on to suggest “they are so bright that they should be treated as ‘non-human persons.'” A professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Thomas White, wrote a series of academic studies suggesting that dolphins should have rights and that they “qualify for moral standing as individuals.”
I have a lot to say on this ethical and spiritual issue of other animals as worthy of equal rights with humans. Much of my writing – from the novel Animal Heart to Singing to the Sound addresses this. Stay tuned.
But for now as I work with my cats warming themselves by the space heater and we all listen to the waves off the Salish Sea, I’d like to give a practical reason for cherishing our fellow creatures: The health benefits of animal companionship.
The New York Times reports that while it is still not well understood, animals can help lower our blood pressure, ease our pain, comfort us in our grieving, and raise healthy children. When researching the effect of visiting therapy dogs (like the Delta Society volunteers) with children in the hospital, Emily Grankowski said, “The dogs brighten them up.” This is also true for autistic children and elders who often have no physical touch except by petting cats or walking a dog.
I edited an anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, in which the poet, Judith Collas quips: “she never felt she was sleeping with the wrong dog.”
The creature comfort that comes from encountering wild animals and living alongside our domestic pets is so profound that I include them in my most important Reasons to Be Left Behind. Now, I better get up from this computer and the piles of work. Why? I’ve got to go walk the dog!